Three decades ago, we experienced an oil shortage, and one of the solutions was to create a nationwide 55-mph speed limit for several years. It was rigidly enforced in some states and lackadaisically enforced in others, but even where it wasn't regularly enforced, average speeds dropped. During those years, driving all around to see my large-animal patients, I noticed how much less fatigued I was at the end of the day. Driving in high-speed traffic is stressful. I also noticed that there were fewer highway accidents. As soon as the 55-mph limit was removed, the number of accidents increased noticeably.
Isn't it interesting that with the present fuel crisis, not one voice has called for a resumption of the 55-mph speed limit? I haven't heard a single suggestion from the government, the citizenry, or even environmentalists that we employ this simple, logical, and lifesaving solution. It is because we are a speed-obsessed, frantic society. Fast food! Fast music! One-second TV commercials! Tennis shoes with wheels! The fastest and most reliable postal system in the world is called snail mail. People e-mail instead of thoughtfully writing because it is faster.
Multitasking is regarded as a virtuous quality. You can drive a car, talk on a cell phone, watch your GPS navigation screen, and listen to a CD all at the same time. In fact, some really adept individuals can even put on makeup while doing all these tasks, and others can let go of the steering wheel to give another driver the finger.
It is easier for me at my age to be cognizant of this speed obsession because I grew up in a slower era. Milk was delivered in horse-drawn wagons. Western Union was quick, and the Super Chief was the fast train. It took only three days to cross the country! The 1939 World's Fair predicted that someday airplanes carrying 200 people would fly across the nation in one day.
Our no-time-to-waste attitude can be found everywhere. At the supermarket, I was at an express checkout counter, which had a sign that clearly stated, "15 items or less." The shopper in front of me had 18 items. She guiltily explained to me that five yogurts represented only one item.
"I see," I said. "So if you have triplets that only counts as one child?"
She replied, "It's not the same. I'd explain it to you, but I'm in a hurry."
"I know," I said. "Everybody is."
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at www.robertmmiller.com.